Why is it that almost anyone can get into great shape, but so few maintain it? For some reason, many of us seem to be satisfied with temporary results. It is common to hear a friend say, “I want to lose 10 pounds before the wedding” or “I want to look my best for my high school reunion.” Some of us want to turn heads at the beach during the summer. Instead of focusing on those small, short-lived goals, I challenge you to look at the big picture and make a lifestyle change so that long-term results can be achieved and sustained. The word “lifestyle” may seem intimidating, especially to someone who is just getting introduced to the world of health and fitness. By lifestyle, I don’t mean participating in obsessive behaviours, such as weighing food, timing meals perfectly, and never missing a workout. Instead, I suggest making your health and fitness activities a normal part of your life. Sure, you will have to invest some time and energy into your training and your food preparation, but it doesn’t have to be difficult or burdensome. Living a fit lifestyle may seem like a daunting task, however, it’s quite simple. As long as you are conscious of what you eat and efficient and diligent in the gym you will look and feel better than a majority of the population. If you want to be a fitness model like myself, or compete in a bodybuilding or figure show, then of course, an increased level of dedication and discipline would be required. To achieve a baseline level of fitness and maintain it, follow the principles outlined in this article. I offer five ways that will help you make health and fitness an enjoyable and regular part of your life.
1. Avoid Extremes
It takes time to achieve your physique goals. Because most people don’t have the patience or discipline to adhere to a strict diet and workout plan, they often turn to extremes, hoping for a “quick fix.” We see it in the media all the time – infomercials promising that you can get a six pack by exercising just a few minutes a day or that you’ll have that perfect beach body after taking a specially formulated diet pill for two weeks. Short-term, extreme methods of physique transformation simply don’t work. Furthermore, they are extremely unhealthy and put your body through tremendous stress. Many people go on extreme diets and workout routines hoping to take a shortcut and get results. Occasionally these extreme methods will deliver transient results, but eventually your body will seek equilibrium and rebound back to where you were when you started. Extremes can be seen in the diets and supplements people take as well as in the workouts they perform. Diets that exclude or restrict certain food groups (i.e. carbohydrates) or glorify particular food items (i.e. the grapefruit diet) are another example of extremes to avoid. Dietary supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. As a result, companies are able to put virtually anything they want into their product. Dietary supplements from some manufacturers contain potent ingredients and combining several of these supplements at once can cause detrimental effects to your health. Extremes in workout routines should also be avoided. Especially with training, less is more. If you work efficiently, there is no need for three to four hour workout sessions each day. Most of my workouts are completed within 45 minutes and all are finished within an hour. I train each muscle group once per week spread evenly over five workouts. Also, if your goal is to lose weight, avoid any rapid weight loss. A healthy amount to lose per week is one to two pounds. It is important to remember that the road to health and fitness is a lifelong journey and that you should enjoy the process.
2. Don’t Fear Off Days
The time you take away from the gym is the time your body uses to recover. I encourage you to take at least two days a week off from weight training. Rest days allow your body to rebuild itself and let you reap the rewards of your hard training. If you work out every single day, you run the risk of overtraining- a state in which your body is unable to recover and muscle growth stops. In many cases of overtraining, people experience muscle atrophy.
I also suggest taking one day a week off from your diet. Don’t overdo it, but eat whatever you’d like for a meal or two. Then, the next day, resume a clean diet. This way, no harm is done. This not only allows you to break the monotony of a strict eating plan, but it also enables you to increase your metabolism. If you follow a strict diet for too long, your body will grow accustomed to the current diet causing your metabolism to slow down. In addition, you may be tempted to splurge. Having a planned “cheat day” every so often will help you avoid this common pitfall.
3. Be Consistent with Your Training and Nutrition
I am often asked what I consider to be the most important aspect of getting into great shape. My answer each and every time is “consistency.” Almost anyone can stick to a rigorous workout plan and strict diet for a few weeks, but those who truly achieve fitness are consistent in their approach. This means that you should eat well and workout regularly and with purpose, not just sporadically. Write your workouts down beforehand, have a schedule of which muscle groups you want to train on each day, and stick to it. Sure, life gets in the way sometimes. When it does, of course you can miss a workout or two, or even a take a week off. The key is to get back to the gym and return to your fitness routine as soon as you can.
4. Create new goals frequently
A great way to ensure that you are making progress is to continually create new goals. You should always have a series of long term and short term goals you want to accomplish. The most important parts about having goals are to make them specific and to write them down. For example, “I want to lose 10 pounds (lbs.) in the next four weeks” is a goal that is much more likely to be completed than simply “I want to look good in a bathing suit.” Also, be sure that you have a plan for reaching your goals. Even after achieving the physique you desire, try to experiment with new training methods to refine your muscles even more, and always strive to improve on what you have accomplished. Don’t be afraid to expand your horizons. You may want to enter competition or, perhaps you may even want to become a fitness model.
5. Keep your workouts fresh, exciting and interesting
Performing the same workout routine over and over again is not only boring, but it causes your body to adapt and your results to plateau. Instead, you should always be on the lookout for different exercises and workout routines. Get creative and invent new exercises that target your muscles differently. When the weather is warm, take your workout outside. If you usually workout alone, bring a friend along to your next training session. There are many ways to keep your workouts exciting, so get out there and experiment!
In my 12+ years of living the fitness lifestyle, I have found these principles to be exceptionally helpful and have enabled me to make the pursuit of my goals not only rewarding, but enjoyable as well. It is my hope that you will apply at least some of these suggestions to your own attempt to change your lifestyle and that you will be healthy, happy, and fit for many years to come.